RENO — Brian Polian wasn’t surprised his Nevada Wolf Pack lost to the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
“We stunk in all three phases of the game,” the Wolf Pack head coach said after the 44-20 loss in front of 24,355 fans. “We didn’t deserve to win.”
The loss is the Wolf Pack’s biggest at Mackay Stadium since a 38-7 loss to Boise State in 2006 and the biggest home loss of Polian’s three-year Pack career.
“I have to get better, my staff has to get better and the players have to get better,” Polian said.
The Pack head coach spent a large chunk of his postgame press conference explaining two penalties he received for arguing with the officials. The play that started Polian’s seemingly game-long tirade with the officials came in the first quarter when a Wolf Pack touchdown was nullified by what the officials ruled an illegal formation.
“That formation was not illegal,” Polian said. “It was 100 percent legal. When that touchdown was taken away it took a little while for us to come back from that.”
Polian never did seem to come back from it. He later got another penalty for running out of the coach’s area to complain about another call with the officials.
“I own them (the penalties) completely,” he said. “You can’t allow that to happen.”
The Pack, now 1-1, also never completely came back from the illegal formation call. Arizona (2-0) jumped out to a 14-0 lead just six minutes into the game and never allowed the Wolf Pack to come closer than 14-10 midway through the second quarter.
“I apologized to the team (for the penalties),” Polian said. “I let the team down. It’s my job to keep my composure. I have to do a better job of keeping my emotions in check.”
Polian, though, also added he didn’t believe he deserved either penalty.
“I don’t apologize for my passion and I don’t apologize for my energy,” he said. “I know the easy story now is that I am a hothead. But I’m incredibly passionate about this job and about our young people.”
The illegal formation call still bothered Polian after the game.
“I know I’m right,” he said.
Arizona, which piled up 570 yards of offense and 24 first downs despite converting just 2-of-13 third down plays, benefited from an early gift from the Wolf Pack’s special teams. A bad punt snap on the game’s first drive gave Arizona the ball at the Wolf Pack 16-yard line. It took the Wildcats all of two plays to score the touchdown on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Anu Solomon to wide receiver Johnny Jackson just 90 seconds into the game.
“The snap over the punter’s head took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” Polian said.
Arizona went up 14-0 on its next drive (after a successful Pack punt), covering 77 yards on seven plays. Solomon, who won four Nevada high school state titles from 2009-12 as Bishop Gorman’s quarterback, completed his first five passes on the drive for 54 yards. The Pack also helped the Wildcats along on the drive with two costly penalties (face mask and pass interference). Running back Nick Wilson did the honors, scoring on a 3-yard run with 9:33 to play in the first quarter for the 14-0 lead.
“Every game you are going to face adversity,” Pack linebacker Jordan Dobrich said. “It just so happened that the adversity came early in the game this time. It wasn’t anything that threw us off our game.”
The Wolf Pack closed the gap to 14-10 by the middle of the second quarter. Quarterback Tyler Stewart, making just his third career start, led the Pack 64 yards in 11 plays for a 28-yard field goal by Brent Zuzo with just over five minutes to play in the opening quarter.
Stewart and the Pack, though, thought they had cut the gap to 14-7 but an apparent 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Don Jackson was wiped out by the illegal formation call on second down.
“It was obviously upsetting,” said Stewart, who completed 18-of-32 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. “But you can’t control what the ref is going to do.”
That didn’t stop Polian, though, from yelling at the officials for much of the rest of the first half. “I never used abusive language,” he said. “But I guess I’ve earned myself a little bit of a rep (for arguing with the officials).”
Stewart pulled the Pack to within 14-10 on a 5-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Jerico Richardson with 9:14 to go in the second quarter.
The Pack, at that point, actually had the momentum. But it didn’t last.
Wilson’s second three-yard touchdown run gave the Wildcats a 21-10 lead with just under four minutes to go in the half. Zuzo would add a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to cut Arizona’s lead to 21-13.
That good feeling lasted into the third quarter. The Pack, driving for what could have been a game-tying touchdown, had the ball at the Arizona 41-yard line on 4th-and-1.
The Arizona defense, though, stuffed Jackson for a 4-yard loss.
The Wildcats then went on a 58-yard scoring drive ending in a 1-yard touchdown pass fro Solomon to Jamardre Cobb for a 27-13 lead.
“I don’t regret going for 4th-and-1,” Polian said. “We had to make touchdowns. It was time to step up and make a yard.”
Arizona went on to dominate the second half, outscoring the Pack 23-7. Wilson scored his third touchdown of the game, a 6-yard run for a 34-13 lead with 3:56 to go in the third quarter. Arizona backup quarterback Jerrard Randall also added a 57-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter for a 41-13 lead.
“We had a lot of juice on that sideline in the first half,” Jones said. “But in the second half, especially after they scored a couple times, you could feel the juice leave the sideline.”
Stewart connected with wide receiver Hasaan Henderson for a consolation touchdown on a 2-yard pass with 10 minutes left in the game.
“We just had a real hard time sustaining drives,” said Jackson, who ran for 91 yards on 24 carries. “We (the offense) were getting off the field too quickly”
Wilson finished with 194 yards as the Wildcats shredded the Pack defense for 301 rushing yards on 43 carries. Solomon also completed 24-of-33 passes for 264 yards and two scores.
“At times we played great defense and other times we played horrible defense,” Dobrich said. “We need to be more consistent.”
“Guys were making mistakes all over the place,” Jones said. “But we’ll learn from it.”
The Wolf Pack will play at Texas A&M next Saturday and Buffalo on Sept. 26 before returning to Mackay Stadium on Oct. 3 to play UNLV.
“Next week (at Texas A&) is no joke,” said Polian, who came to the Wolf Pack after coaching Texas A&M’s special teams for one season in 2012. “This isn’t the time to start feeling sorry for ourselves.”